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Activity-controlled annealing of colloidal monolayers


Molecular motors are essential to the living, generating fluctuations that boost transport and assist assembly. Active colloids, that consume energy to move, hold similar potential for man-made materials controlled by forces generated from within. Yet, their use as a powerhouse in materials science lacks. Here we show a massive acceleration of the annealing of a monolayer of passive beads by moderate addition of self-propelled microparticles. We rationalize our observations with a model of collisions that drive active fluctuations and activate the annealing. The experiment is quantitatively compared with Brownian dynamic simulations that further unveil a dynamical transition in the mechanism of annealing. Active dopants travel uniformly in the system or co-localize at the grain boundaries as a result of the persistence of their motion. Our findings uncover the potential of internal activity to control materials and lay the groundwork for the rise of materials science beyond equilibrium.

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